Vince Epifanio climbed the 60 steps last Friday at the inflatable Hippo water slide in North Myrtle Beach, ready for his second slippery descent..
Looking north up the coast from 36 feet over the sand, he and 13-year-old daughter Nicole Epifanio, who live nearby in the Merritt Park community, were celebrating her eighth-grade graduation from North Myrtle Beach Middle School.
The father said they could spend three to four hours straight climbing and sliding for that soothing splash at the bottom, "up and down, up and down," until they get hungry. The teen said the speed thrills her every time.
Summer sizzles as prime time every day for the "Hippo" and all three area water parks.
Debbie Cullen of Atlanta watched as her 6-year-old son, Reilly Cullen, kept a nonstop cycle going on the Hippo, part of their second straight summer family vacation here, and their second season enjoying this slide.
"This is awesome," the first-grader said, stopping for a second before running to climb the staircase again, "because it's so fun, and it's not scary."
His mother observed that little children often don't slide all the way to hit the padded end with their feet, "but the parents fly down."
Ronald Lewis Sr. joined his family for a sojourn from Richmond, Va., as three grandchildren made the rounds.
"I want to do it again," said Hampton Morris, 3.
Reg Bool Jr. and son Logan Bool, 5, from Winston-Salem, N.C., were repeat customers, too. The elder Bool said using the "pencil technique" on the way down cuts down on drag, with no friction.
Sporting shades and smiles as a spectator, Mark Horton, North Myrtle Beach's beach services manager, said the Hippo, which he found shopping on the Internet and can be spotted from miles down the beach, continues making quite the footprint in its third summer.
"Parents love it because they can buy that all-day pass," he said, "and the kids tire themselves out; they sleep really well."
Locals and tourists alike can head over to a water park and choose from a menu of other splish-splashy options.
Anthony Berbary is the third member of his family to serve as aquatics manager for Family Kingdom Water Park in Myrtle Beach, acquired in 1997.
"Being on the beach," he said, "we get a lot of walk-in traffic."
Like North Myrtle Beach officials see at the Hippo, Berbary said all age groups turn out, but "our basic clientele has always been families."
An expansion in 1999 added a lazy river, two intermediate slides and two more kiddie areas.
Berbary said the biggest amount of business flows between noon and 5 p.m. daily, and for the season, in mid-summer, starting in July.
"Where we are on the beach, we get the best of both worlds," he said.
Colors in the park also take on a vibrant summertime hue, too, whether in the landscaping and flowers, or through the paint that stands up to the sun and chlorine, Berbary said.
Even for people who can't swim, the deepest point in any pool reaches 3 1/2 feet, Berbary said, and the park has doubled and reached capacity in size as part of Family Kingdom.
Don't look for a wave pool in the park, though.
"We have the biggest wave pool, and that's the Atlantic Ocean," Berbary said. "It's just outside the entrance."
Mark Lazarus, owner of Wild Water & Wheels in Surfside Beach, said the park hasn't changed much in 22 years, but it has added some amenities, such as a wave pool and five slides, including one originally used along the ocean at the Gay Dolphin in downtown Myrtle Beach.
Wild Water had more rides when it first opened, "but we found the calling for a water park was bigger," Lazarus said.
Wild Water also began "Live at Five" events three years ago, staying open later on Fridays with entertainers taking turns on the stage each week over the wave pool.
Lazarus said Fridays had been Wild Water's slowest day, in contrast to Tuesdays through Thursdays, so such dance parties, inspired from scenes at other parks nationwide, have built up the start to the weekends there.
Seeing patrons go home, "when they're tired and they want to go to sleep," pleases Lazarus.
"It's just such a great thing when you watch people leaving," he said. "The whole family got to spend the day together and have a lot of fun."
Daniel Warren moved from Texas for the general manager's post at Myrtle Waves, owned by PARC Management of Jacksonville, Fla. His said his career as a consultant and in water parks has taken him to places such as Dubai, Trinidad and Canada.
He finds Myrtle Beach, sitting along the Atlantic Ocean, an ideal locale for water parks, whether for the adrenaline rush from a slide or to chill out on a lazy river "as if you're on a waterbed." A wave pool, he said, fills the middle of the road, resembling the ocean waves rolling in.
The slides at Myrtle Waves, which opened in 1985, differ in degree, some for adults and older teens, and others for tweens on down to toddlers. Warren said spending time with family provides the greatest take-home gift, "to build some treasured memories."
"People have the option to see kids come of age, in a sense," he said, such as seeing youth grow right before their eyes when they say "I will move up to a bigger slide; I am ready."
Last week, Warren recalled seeing a family witnessing their son doing his first water slide ride.
"They are going to keep that memory for the rest of their lives," he said.
Warren also brought up the "lure of the sea," and if people do not want to venture into the surf, amid the crabs and fish to which some individuals might have an aversion, "they want to have their fun in the sun and in the water."
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.